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Zdravka Mihaylova: “It feels like breathing in Greece is somewhat easier, but it may be delusional…”

23 March 2011 / 13:03:49  GRReporter
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Marina Nikolova

Z. Mihaylova was awarded the 2010 State Prize of Greece for foreign language translation for the poetic anthology by Yannis Ritsos Scripture of the All-Seeing One. She says in an interview for GRReporter that it would be better if poets and intellectuals could change the world and shares her views on Greek poetry and ethno-psychology.

How did you feel when you learned that you were awarded the most prestigious prize for translation in Greece? Did you expect it?

I have been named to the so-called short list of finalists two or three times during the past seven years. I was very surprised when I received the news because I could not believe that the awarding finally happened. Many factors must coincide for a translator to be awarded this prestigious prize. Ritsos is "heavy artillery" for Greek literature, and it took hard work, skill and flair for poetic speech to get to the publication of Scriptures of the All-Seeing One. I wish to thank the publisher Malina Tomova from Stigmati publishing house for her cooperation. I had always wondered how  books ranked in the “obscure languages” category are assessed, as committee members usually speak one or two of the main European languages. I was told that the publication was submitted to a professional "reader" with Bulgarian as their mother tongue for assessment. Her positive mark and the added value of the criterion of long-standing contribution to the dissemination of Modern Greek literature, which is also taken into consideration by the committee, have led to my award.

The news was officially announced by the Greek news agency ANA-MPA on the 1st of March, but the official award ceremony by the Minister of Culture will be held at the end of April. On the one hand, the prize gives me personal satisfaction, but on the other  it is a sign of a breakthrough in the attitude towards translations into the so-called "small" or obscure languages, such as all Balkan ones, including Bulgarian.

In a broader sense, the prize honours not only me, it is also a recognition of the systematic presence and promotion of Greek Literature in Bulgaria in general. The short article by literary critic Manolis Pimblis in Ta Nea newspaper on the occasion of the news was not gratuitously entitled “Greece in Bulgaria”. Naturally, the award is an occasion for joy, pride and satisfaction in a job well done, as well as public recognition by the Greek State for the efforts that anyway have brought personal satisfaction to me over the years. And this is a part of the mutual approach – Greeks recognize my work to spread their language and literature. The feeling is different when a Hellenist is rewarded with a similar prize for his or her contribution.

Ritsos is loved and translated in Bulgaria, and his proletarian poetry is known better there. He wrote in a very different style during the later period of his work after 1974, and I have sought to present these less-known works of his in Bulgaria. This is the third book by Ritsos that I translated after the philosophical and mythological monologues of Fourth Dimension (of the 13 poems included in the book, besides my nine, three are translated by Yana Bukova and one by Dostena Lavern) and the fragments in prose entitled Ariostos the Observant Recounts Moments of his Life and Sleep. The play Anonymous Saint based on one of those Ritsos’ stories is currently on stage at Teatro Tehnis (the Greek Art Theater) of Karolos Kuhn in the Stoa tou Vivliou (Book Arcade). The leading role is played by our talented fellow countryman actor Chris Radanov. Translation work into Bulgarian (for the collection Fourth Dimension) was first short-listed for the State award in 2003. Then we had some reasonable expectation for the prize and naturally disappointment followed when it did not make the final cut. So, this time I had a strong feeling that this subsequent Ritsos book had all the qualities to be recognized, but without high expectations since I know that always something might happen between short-listing and the final awarding procedure.

There is a long-standing tradition of translating Greek literature in Bulgaria. There are several Departments of Modern Greek Philology too. Are Bulgarian graduates interested to continue this tradition?

The main benchmark works have been translated. There remains Modern Greek literature – vast and diverse – still not sufficiently promoted on the Bulgarian book market. Departments of Modern Greek studies in Bulgaria provide a solid education, but the diploma of philologist is one thing and it’s quite a different matter whether any of these young graduates would be interested and prepared to get engaged with literary translation in the future. Personally I am not aware of the names of young graduates in Greek literature who are systematically making literary translations, this being among their priorities. Experienced and apt translators include Yana Bukova and Dragomira Valcheva, Classical Philology alumni. But perhaps there are also well-prepared Modern Greek Studies graduates with the requisite interests.

Tags: NewsAwardZdravka MihaylovaYiannis RitsosPoetryGreek PoetsLiterature
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